Dementia is an odd disease in that you basically lose your most recent memories first. For instance, yesterday, when my mother asked how old she would be on her next birthday, I said 88, but then she insisted that was impossible because she was only around 80. When she asked what year it was, and I replied 2017, she didn’t believe me and insisted it couldn’t be 2017 already. I remembered reading that you’re not supposed to argue with someone with dementia, so I said, “Oh, wait, I got confused. You’re only going to be 81 on you next birthday. I don’t know who I was thinking about.” She then leaned back in her recliner with a triumphant look of vindication.
This conversation happened exactly one day after I told her she had received a card from her old neighbor, Ms. Francis, and she couldn’t remember her. Ms. Frances was her neighbor at the retirement resort in Tennessee where she lived for three years prior to moving in with me in December. I let mom know about the card, and she said, “I don’t know that person”. When I reminded her who Ms. Francis was, mom replied, “I didn’t live in an apartment”. I described the apartment building with its goldfish pond in front, the bingo games she loved to play three times a week, the dining room where she ate all her meals, and she had no idea what I was talking about. It’s like she lost all three of those years.
Conversely, she seems to remember everything from her childhood and keeps telling me all sorts of stories about her parents and siblings. On Sunday, for instance, when she supervised my husband and I in the planting of some rose bushes, she told me that her father used to plant roses for her mother. She also likes to tell me about her mother’s cooking and how nice her sister Sadie was when they were growing up. I’m enjoying hearing these stories, but I can’t help but feel sad that she’s losing memories of people she recently knew.
Yesterday, as I was thinking about my mother’s memory loss, I started to worry as I wondered…what if my mother forgets who I am? Right now, she trusts me, perhaps because I’m her daughter and she has fond memories of me going back many years. If she forgets who I am, however, will she become suspicious of me as she does physical therapists and other strangers who enter our home? I then remembered that Jesus said, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself”. (Matthew 6:34)
I found peace in this and decided to hand the worry over to God. I’ve just got to take each day as it comes and make the best of it. In fact, when Alif, our seven-year-old neighbor, came over today like he does most days (he’s sort of a Muslim version of Dennis the Menace), he demonstrated the Dab to us which is some sort of crazy new hip hop dance in which you basically act like your sneezing into the crook of your arm. (What in the world will they think of next?) I turned to my mom and asked her what dances were popular in her day. She said, “Oh, well, there was the Lindy and the Big Apple. I asked her about the Charleston because I love the Charleston scene from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” (see video at the end of this post), and she replied that it was popular when she was really young. I looked it up on YouTube and my husband, Alif, and I all watched a video of it, imitating the moves as we did so. We danced the Charleston, terribly I might add, as all of us, my mother included, ended up laughing hysterically. It was great fun, made more wonderful by the knowledge that my mother had a good day. I’m determined to hold onto this memory and other good memories of my mother in the coming days, weeks, and months.